Tip o’ the Week 478 – O365 and Windows’ Mail and Calendar

clip_image002On the mobile platforms that still survive, the highly-regarded and rightly popular “Outlook” mobile apps have no relation to the Outlook desktop Windows app which first appeared with Office 97, before smartphones were a glint in anyone’s eye. Mobile Outlook has hundreds of millions of downloads on both iOS and Android; quite a feat, as later this year Windows Mobile sinks quietly beneath the waves.

The genesis of Outlook on the phone as we know it today, is perhaps the acquisition of a company called Accompli 5 years ago, and a great deal of refinement and effort since.

clip_image004Somewhat interestingly, traces of the same app have come to Windows as well – namely the Mail and Calendar app(s) that are in the box on Windows 10. Look back to ToW 445, and you’ll see that the names for the apps are outlookcal, outlookmail and outlookaccounts. Stick a “:” on the end and you can run them from a prompt.

e.g. Hit WindowsKey+R then enter outlookcal: and you’ll jump straight into the Calendar app.

Both have come a very long way – at first release, they were pretty basic, but they’re now so well featured that most people could use them as their primary email and calendar apps, most of the time.

clip_image006The Calendar app is functionally pretty similar clip_image008to the Outlook desktop app, except when it comes to working with other people – there’s no way to view someone else’s calendar, for example, but for a personal diary of appointments it’s really very good. And if you want the best of both worlds, you can connect your Office 365 account to both Outlook – as might be your primary way of working – and to the Mail and Calendar apps, for some side benefits and quicker ways of getting some things done.

Go into the settings on the Calendar app, then Manage accounts, then + Add account… or just Win+R then outlookaccounts: and you’ll be able to add your Office 365 account onto both Mail and Calendar.

If you have multiple calendars connected – like home Office 365, Gmail or Outllook.com accounts as well as your corporate one – you could selectively enable them for display in the app, and the set of calendars that are shown will also appear in the agenda if you click on the clock / date on your taskbar. You can also see your upcoming appointments in a live tile on the Start menu, if you still use such things.


You’ll also see your next appointment on the Windows Lock Screen if you have it enabled under Lock screen settings.

You may want to go into the Notifications & actions settings page (just press Start and begin typing notif…) and turning off Calendar notifications, or you’ll get a blizzard of reminders from desktop Outlook and the Calendar app.

Tip o’ the Week 368 – Mail and Calendar apps mature

Ever since Windows 8 came out, theclip_image002re were simplified Mail & Calendar apps built-in. Reviews were initially fairly mixed – and even after a bunch of improvements and a refresh when Windows 10 arrived, it could be argued there was still work to do.

The Mail & Calendar apps are essentially joined now – though you still have “Mail” clip_image006and “Calendar” appearing in the apps list once installed, and starting either from clip_image008the appropriate icon jumps into the requisite section within the single Mail clip_image004and Calendar application. “They” show up as a single app within the Store (bearing the same icon within its Store entry as full-fat Outlook, no less, though the apps are different). Increasingly, new functionality is appearing within the Mail and Calendar app which is common across regular Outlook and also the Outlook mobile versions.

clip_image010There’s been a recent update to the Mail and Calendar app – to check if you have it, go into the Store app, click on your own avatar to the left of the Search box in the top right, and check under Downloads and updates.

clip_image012There’s a bunch of new functionality similar to Outlook – @mentions support (try it), categories, travel integrations and a lot more – the latest updates are pretty substantial.

Both mail and calendar functionality is getting advanced enough, you might choose to set up Mail and Calendar for your work/Office 365 email account, rather than bothering with installing Outlook on your home PC or companion tablet device.

clip_image014The Focussed Inbox view familiar to Outlook 2016 and clip_image016Office 365 users makes an appearance in Mail (though you do need to turn it on – go into Settings > Reading, and look at the bottom of the settings pane).

Another notable new feature in Calendar is dubbed “Interesting Calendars”, optionally added alongside and sourced from a variety of publishers surfaced via Bing, and tailored for you based on locale.

If you have multiple mail accounts set up, you can choose which one to add your “interesting calendars” to, by checking under the Settings > Calendar section (note – to get to the calendar specific settings, he app needs to be in the calendar view at the time, then invoke settings by clicking on the gear wheel in the icons on the bottom-left).


If you add a custom calendar to your Office 365 account, the same one will be visible within Outlook too, under the “My Calendars” group.

clip_image020Aside from new features, there are some neat tricks you can use to personalise Mail and Calendar – like choosing the colour scheme and background images to fill the apps when you haven’t got something selected in the preview pane.

clip_image022Or set the “quick actions”, an inherited bit of functionality from the mobile versions of Outlook, where swiping a message left or right can do something to it – delete it, archive it, flag it etc.

Handy if you’re using the Mail app on a touch device (from a cheap 8” Windows tablet to a Surface being used in tablet mode).

For a history of new features in Mail and Calendar, see here (though since that page doesn’t list version numbers and also doesn’t look comprehensively up-to-date, YMMV).

Tip o’ the Week 322 – Booking meeting rooms (again)

clip_image002As any fule kno, the //build/ conference was on last week. There was lots of news and updates and a good number of the sessions are on Channel9. If you liked Age of Ascent in ScottGu’s keynote, check out the next public Alpha on Saturday 9th April.

Building on last week’s ToW and on a topic that has been covered some time ago, let’s dig deep into the bowels of Outlook, going back almost 20 years to Outlook Forms to solve a very particular problem.

As per ToWs passim (like Eyes), every item (message, contact, appointment etc) you open in Outlook is a bag of data fields that are rendered in front of your eyes by a form. It’s possible to design and publish custom forms to do more stuff, or in this instance, to fulfil a specific function and by pre-populating some data and by hiding other extraneous information.

Show meeting rooms

Meeting rooms are often set up as bookable resources within Exchange & Outlook – so you invite the room to your meeting and it automatically accepts, meaning you’ve reserved that resource. When trying to figure which rooms are free, if you only have a few meeting rooms then it might be easy enough to just show their calendars from the Room List (eg here). If you’re using a more modern version of Outlook and/or have more than a few rooms to deal with, then Room Finder is more useful. See here and here.


As an end-user, though, you may find that your IT department doesn’t manage the rooms the way you’d like – in a new building, for example, there might be no room list published – so not much help if you’re trying to book a room.

Here’s a somewhat hacked-up solution which might be useful in other ways, though – it involves customising a form of your own, with your favourite rooms shown, so you can quickly check their availability. You could do the same thing with a group of people too, should you want.

Let’s get building

Start by going into your Calendar, and create a blank Appointment form, then follow the steps for adding the Design This Form command to the Quick Access Toolbar (or right-click the Ribbon when in a new clip_image005appointment, choose Customize the Ribbon, then tick the check-box next to the Developer option on the right hand side, which will now show the Developer tab on the Ribbon, with the Design This Form command on it).

clip_image007Now, add the list of meeting rooms (or people) you want to quickly check out by choosing the Invite Attendees option from the main Appointment tab. Once you have the list populated with everyone/every room you want, go into the Design This Form option as above.

Now you’ll have switched to a form clip_image009designer view that shows a bunch of tabs representing pages which can be shown or hidden. On the Appointment tab, clear the tick next to “Display This Page”, which will add brackets around the name of the tab (indicating that it’s now hidden). The only tab that will be shown is the Scheduling Assistant.


Now that’s all done, Publish the new form as a custom name (something like <building name> Meeting Rooms) then hit the Publish button. This will now save the form into your own Calendar folder, so it will be available from any PC running Outlook.

clip_image013To activate the form, select the time slot you’re looking for in your calendar, then go to New Items -> Custom Forms -> pick your newly-created form.

You’ll now see the custom form will display only the grid view of room availability, with all of the rooms ticked.

You won’t actually use this clip_image015form to make your room booking, but it will let you know which rooms are available and when (or not, as the case may be), so if you manage to find one that’s not booked already, you could right-click its name from the list on the left, copy the name, then paste that into a new appointment you can make for the same timeslot.

Make sure you close down the custom form without saving or sending anything.

This approach is nicely flexible in that you can create your own “lists” of favourite rooms (eg all large customer rooms with AV, or all rooms kitted out with Surface Hub, devices in any location etc).

If your desired selection changes, you can create a new form and Publish As using the name of an existing one to replace it (or open the existing custom form, enter Design This Form mode again, go to the Appointment tab and edit the list of invitees there).

If you’d like to delete old forms then from the main Outlook window, go into File | Options | Advanced | Developers | Custom Forms | Manage Forms, and click on Set… to navigate to your own calendar folder, then delete the forms you no longer need. Phew.

Tip o’ the Week #271 – Finding your Friends


Sometimes, people don’t want to be found. That’s maybe understandable if you’re a sweary unemployed pugilist, but often, you’d like to locate your friends and colleagues and you’d like them to find you.

Start by letting people see your calendar – in days gone by, the norm in Microsoft Outlook and Exchange was to let everyone see what your calendar says, but in recent versions, the only clip_image003info you’d see by default would be their free/busy status – which isn’t really much use if you’re trying to collaborate with them. All it would take is some eejit to invite you to their holiday, marking the time as out of office and therefore obliterating your own F/B status for people looking to book you for meetings.

Free/Busy is basically rubbish – it doesn’t let anyone know where you are, how likely you are to be available in a given location, etc. So, if you regularly get meeting requests from people expecting you to be in one place when your calendar shows you’re somewhere else, then maybe you should share your calendar better, and tell them to look in your calendar before emailing to ask if you’re available.

Thereclip_image005 are a few options for better calendar sharin: if you look on the Share tab when looking at the Calendar in Outlook 2013, you’ll see a clip_image007Calendar Permissions option, which will let you set the default permissions on your calendar, and see/set it you’ve granted more rights to certain folk – so you could allow everyone to see basic info, and your closest colleagues can be given the right to see everything.

Unless you’ve got something to hide (and if you do, you can always set those appointments as Private), then set the defaut sharing level to be Full Details – in which case, people will be able to see where you are, and who else is supposed to be at your meeting. If you choose any other option, then others won’t be able to open your meeting, so they wouldn’t see body text (like agenda, directions etc) or the attendee list.


FindMe – a Microsoft internal tool

There’s a snazzy tool developed by a group of Microsoft staff (in an internal development effort akin to the Garage), called FindMe. There are two parts – the installable software agent sits in the PC’s system try and provides your whereabouts to friends who you want to allow to see your location, and there’s a web front-end which will show you where your friends are.

The killer app part of FindMe is its ability to see the meeting rooms located in your chosen location – you can use it without needing to install the agent, and in supported locations you can see the floor layout, and a colour-coded view of the meeting rooms to show availability at a clip_image004given date and time (and a one-click link to make a booking).

As for finding people, if they have the agent running and if the location services detect that they’re sitting in a supported Microsoft building, you’ll see them on a floor plan, otherwise you’ll be shown a world map.

The software can use triangulated positions against known Microsoft WiFi network points, to show not just which building someone is in, but potentially right down to which desk they’re sitting at – it’s brilliant, but it needs a good deal of work in surveying the buildings to make it useful – but the team is working on how to make it available to customers as part of a Microsoft Services engagement. If you’re interested in learning more, ask your Microsoft contact to get in touch with the FindMe team (just send mail to the DL with alias findme).